I consider learning languages one of my oldest and dearest hobbies. It didn’t start that way though. I started learning Spanish in the 7th grade strictly for credit. I wanted to get ahead academically. I did well in Spanish, but everything changed for me freshman year. I had a Spanish teacher, Senora Irias, who made learning Spanish so much fun. It was the first time I actually enjoyed the process of learning Spanish and entertained the prospect of being fluent in a foreign language. She was the best Spanish teacher I had in high school by far.
From freshman year, I was very intentional about learning Spanish for myself. It was more than just a class from that point. About 6 years later, I found myself in Oaxaca, Mexico “trying to be fluent” when my new Mexican friends impressed upon me that I was already fluent. It wasn’t until I was in Mexico, that I felt confident in my ability to speak Spanish.
Since becoming bilingual, I’ve made significant efforts to become trilingual and add Korean to my reservoir of languages. Why I chose Korean is a bit of a story and I’ll get into it later, but it involves a kind Korean family and food (lots of food).
I started teaching myself Korean the semester I started college, November 2014, and the journey to fluency has been a long one. I am currently at an intermediate level aggressively striving for fluency.
Learning a foreign language in college is tough and incredibly rewarding. I encourage all college students to lean into that challenge because attending college is supposed to challenge you to grow emotionally, mentally, spiritually (at times) and especially intellectually.
Colleges and universities have a vast supply of resources that can help you get that done. It’s the perfect place to facilitate language learning. Other reasons to learn a foreign language in college include:
#1 A good excuse to travel and study abroad
Knowing Spanish gives me another level of confidence travelling and studying abroad in Spanish-speaking counties that I took for granted before. In fact, my experience in Seoul, South Korea was the first time in college I was in a country where I didn’t speak the language. Before that experience, I was in Mexico and was able to communicate confidently. Speaking from experience, taking your foreign language classes in the country that speaks the language is a wonderful immersive experience.
Bonus tip: Before taking a foreign language in the host country, get a good grasp on the basics. This will help you smooth out the transition to being in a foreign country learning a different language.
#2 Personal and Professional Development (obviously)
Learning a foreign language is definitely a resume booster. It shows you went the extra mile in college and that you are resourceful and committed. Your experience learning a foreign language and navigating in a different country makes for excellent interview responses as well.
I cannot begin to fully express how leaning a different language changes you personally. It expands your mind (and vocabulary) and you gain a new perspective and understanding of another culture. Language is the keystone of every culture. If you understand the language, you understand the people on a whole new, more intimate level.
Bonus tip: Talk to your career advisor to explore how you can best express your experience abroad in an interview and use your foreign language skills to make yourself more attractive in the job market. If you haven’t already, talk to your academic advisor to see if there are any special distinctions or awards you qualify to earn because of your foreign language experience.
#3 Homage to your roots
My family comes from a Nigerian tribe called Igbo and the language shares the same name. When I went to Nigeria to visit my grandparents and other relatives, I loved being there but there was definitely a language barrier between us. For example, my grandfather has no idea what I’m saying half the time. My grandma and father had to translate our conversations. Once I speak Korean fluently, I’m determined to make Igbo my fourth language.
I encourage you to look into your family history and see where they came from and what language they spoke. Learning that language could be a unique personal homage to your roots.
#4 Meet new people
Saying you’ll meet new people if you learn a foreign language is an understatement! There are so many organizations both on campus and in the community dedicated to different cultures and languages. One of the biggest compliments you can give another culture is to learn its language. Use apps like MeetUp and Facebook Local to find other people who are trying to learn the language. Chances are you’ll stumble upon a whole new subculture waiting to welcome you in!
If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to take a foreign language class. If time or finances won’t permit it then use free and affordable resources like Duolingo, Verbling and Edx.org, Coursera and Udemy to find classes in the language you want to learn. I guarantee you it is definitely worth the tie and energy.
What foreign language do you want to learn? What was your experience learning a foreign language? Share your experience in the comments section. Feel free to reach out to me directly with any questions.